Aaron Ramsey has hit back at Wayne Rooney's recent comments as tensions begin to mount ahead of the Premier League fixture between Manchester United and Arsenal at the weekend.
Shortly after United forward Rooney said, as per BBC Sport, that Arsenal could not be considered title contenders yet, the Gunners' player of the season so far, Ramsey, claimed his team are more than ready to compete.
Tony Paskin in the Express reports that Ramsey thinks Rooney has it backward, though, and that the Gunners can make a bid for the league title—if they keep up their early-season form into the Christmas period:
I don’t think our form has been that bad after Christmas. In the last few seasons, we’ve had to dig in and get a load of points to get fourth place.
Our biggest problem over the last few seasons has been starting off well – but we have managed to do that this season. If we get ourselves into a strong position then our ability to get as many points as we can in the run-in has been second to none.
We had a fantastic run-in last season and, after the let-down of the opening game this term, losing 3-1 at home to Aston Villa, we have managed to build on that.
If we can keep it going up until Christmas then we know that we have the ability to compete.
Questions of Arsenal's title challenge aside, in a way it is refreshing for fans of the Premier League to even be witnessing the back-and-forth nature of mind games and trophy-based chatter ahead of the game, after several years of a far more serene nature than they had previously been used to.
For too long, Arsene Wenger's men have fallen way off the pace of winning the league title.
It's not just that they haven't won trophies in several years but also the fact that few people outside of their own fanbase took them seriously as genuine contenders. "There or thereabouts," as the saying goes, yes, for sure. Few generally thought they would fall out of the top four, most of the time.
But challenging in the final game or two? Rarely.
Manchester United, meanwhile, continued their inexorable march toward top-two status on a nearly yearly basis, feared abroad and at home and ever under the influential guise of the now-retired Alex Ferguson.
2011's 8-2 mauling of the Gunners was a one-off and a skewed result, but it served to highlight just how far the chasm between the two had grown.
It wasn't always this way.
Fergie and Wenger were, for almost a decade, constant snipers, commenters and critics of each other's teams, providing a soundtrack to a thunderous renegade matchup on the pitch alternately made up of moments of quality and grizzled, growling personal battles.
Keane and Vieira. Keown and van Nistelrooy. Penalties, red cards, big signings and FA Cup classics.
Arsenal and United was perhaps the biggest rivalry in all of England for the time, as between 1997-98 and 2003-04, for seven long years, only those two teams won the Premier League title.
Not only that, but the losing side almost without exception finished as runner-up, with just Liverpool (2001-02, United third) and Chelsea (2003-04, United third) breaking that mould.
That time has passed.
It's been eight seasons since Arsenal even managed a top-two finish in the Premier League, while they've only finished third on three occasions in that time. United, meanwhile, added a further five titles to their tally in that time.
Predict the outcome of the match
Now, however, Ferguson has departed, a new United has yet to really take shape...and Arsenal have taken full advantage of their own stability by racing to an early lead at the top of the Premier League table.
There is, as Rooney says, a long way to go before Arsenal can be judged a serious contender. Yet Ramsey is also right in saying that the Gunners are the form team since January. It's since August that counts, though—and Arsenal are indisputably the form team since then.
The game at the weekend may or may not be a firm indication of Arsenal's title hopes for this season (or indeed United's top-four hopes?)—but it should, at least, be once again a pivotal and important match for both sides, and that's something the Premier League as a whole will certainly benefit from.